Is Sign Language International?

A common question sign language interpreters and people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing receive is, “Is Sign Language international?”  This perception may come from the idea that sign language was artificially created to connect with people who cannot hear.  This, however, is incorrect.

Why Different Sign Languages?Is Sign Language International

As with spoken languages, signed languages develop naturally from a need to communicate with family, friends, and community.  Before technology and constant global connectedness, families needed to be able to communicate with their children.  This is the primary reason different signs, both vocabulary and grammar, grew in each different country.

Sign Language and Cultural History

Each country’s sign language has its own development and cultural history.  Many developed from ‘home signs’ created over time by families with Deaf or Hard of Hearing children.  Some of these home signs were mixed with a more formal sign language established in an educational setting.  Often Deaf children learned sign language from each other in residential schools.  When a sign did not exist for a given expression or meaning, they created one.

Over time, communities would naturally standardize signs and syntax so that all signers in that country could understand each other.  You will still find some ‘home signs’ used today, but most signed languages are fully developed and can be used to teach language.  This is a huge benefit to a Deaf child’s language development as it gives them a full language at a young age (necessary for psychological maturity).

Is there an International Sign Language?

Many people, after asking, “Is Sign Language international?” will follow it up with, “Well, is there an international Sign Language?”  Yes! There is.  It is not, however, used by a social community on a daily basis.  It is more commonly used at international conferences in business or political settings.  It uses many logical, meaning-based hand gestures that can be easily understood and learned.  But it still takes study and regular use to maintain.

This is another reason we encourage the use of Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs) who have this knowledge base.  They may also know other sign languages and can mediate between Deaf or Hard of Hearing individuals from different countries.

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Additional Resources:

Is Sign Language International?

World Federation of the Deaf


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review